My friend and favorite wrestler/model Pepper Gomez was taken off life support May 5, 2004 (Cinco de Mayo) and passed away the next day. Pepper had 2 emergency surgeries in early April and had been unconscious since April 16.
Paul Gomez, the 1949 Mr. California makes his pro debut under the name Pepper Gomez in El Paso, TX under the tutelage of Mexican wrestling legend Miguel "Blackie" Guzman. Gomez blew out his knee in his first match. Gomez ended up being a huge star, particularly in Texas and California as "the man with the cast iron stomach." He still holds the record holding the Texas heavyweight title on 12 occasions between 1955 and 1963.
Pepper was worldwide main-eventing at the old Madison Square Garden, the top arenas in Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Australia, New Zealand and was regarded as Pro Wrestling's Jackie Robinson in terms of other Latino athletes breaking the barrier and finally getting work in U.S. rings. "And I had one of wrestling's best bodies a long time before any of these guys picked up a steroid needle. I've never approved of those cheap shortcuts," Pepper said recently when he was training some future stars, such as Crash Holly.
Gomez set his incredible string of SRO attendance records at the Cow Palace, Oakland Kaiser Center, Sacramento Auditorium, etc and usually against the likes of another great, late San Francisco legend; Ray Stevens. "Ray and I sold out the Cow Palace for many years and still hold the all time attendance and gate record there in 1963 (17,000+ $65,000 take) which now would be against the law because they kept letting people in and we turned away usually 5,000 more each time. The fire marshals wouldn't allow that now. Our feud was so big the media came from all the world."
Pepper had a long running fueds with several stars, most notably Killer Kowalski, Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan, Kenji Shibuya in addition to Stevens.
Pepper held numerous titles both as a singles wrestler and as part of a tag team. 7 times he wrestled for the world championship, 5 against all time champ, Lou Thesz. Pepper got 3 draws, but never won the big one, it simply wasn't time for a Latin to be the 'Champ'.
In July 2003 Dennis and I interviewed Pepper about his modeling career.
Pepper's physique modeling sessions took place, as nearly as I can determine in 1947-48. While Pepper spoke at length about his body building, his routines and workout schedules, he said virtually nothing about the modeling sessions he was involved with. Dennis and I asked only subtle questions and the only in depth answers came to questions about his buddy Gene Meyers.
Since our interview was at his home with his wife and son present, it did not seem appropriate to push him for answers about modeling. He did comment that he and Gene used to hang out at Muscle/Venice Beach in 1947-48 and this is where they were approached by photographers. Venice Beach was the get together place for bodybuilders, Hollywood stars, agents, producers, photographers and the curious.
As far as I know Pepper seems to have done at least four modeling shoots, two each, one indoor- one outdoor, with Bruce Bellas and Bob Mizer(AMG). I do not recognize any other photographer in his body of work and nothing seems to stetch into the 1950s. His school buddy and sometimes modeling partner Gene Meyers did numerous shoots over a number of years for several different photographers all in the Los Angeles area. While Gene did a marvelous session with Fred Kovert of full frontal nudes, there are no known full nudes of Pepper.
The article in the posted 1948 Strength and Health (with a radiant Pepper on the cover) details Pepper's workout routine and talks about his diet, and lists all his measurements at that time. The article was written by Vic Tanny, with whom Pepper was training at the time. Pepper recalls Vic fondly and gives him some of the credit for gaining the results obtained.
Pepper I will truly miss your kind gentle ways and tremendous talents as both a model and wrestler.